There’s nothing particularly intimate or revelatory about this five-hour (plus intermission) biopic of the German 19th-century composer.
The film begins in Dresden in 1848 when Richard Wagner (Richard Burton) was beginning to gain notoriety for his compositions and grand, heroic operas. He was also actively involved in the movement for a unified Germany.
So begins a 40-year trek across Europe for the most part as a stateless artist. Brunt of the first part deals with his self-imposed exile with part two beginning with his introduction to Ludwig II who becomes his patron. Along the way there are mounting bills, political scandals and Faustian pursuits.
Burton’s performance as Wagner presents an almost entirely unsympathetic picture. Vanessa Redgrave and Gemma Craven as Wagner’s wives have largely thankless roles. For buffs, the film’s biggest draw is watching England’s acting knights – Laurence Olivier, John Gielgud, Ralph Richardson – working together for the first time on screen.
Chief attraction remains the visual components of the film which beautifully capture the era.